This story was published on 1st April, 2020.
Top Public interest and Human Rights Advocate, Isaac Kimaze Ssemakadde has lashed at his colleagues in the Legal profession claiming ‘special’ status as essential service providers and therefore exempt from the Coronavirus Lockdown.
Speaking to the Legal Reports, Mr Ssemakadde who has been at centre of several landmark public interest cases said the Lawyers are ‘parasites sucking the life blood of society’ and are ‘quite adept at mocking the rule of law’
” In reality, the typical Ugandan lawyer, and that includes every Judge and Magistrate is a non essential service provider.” The self styled ‘Legal Rebel’ said.
Mr Ssemakadde’s land mark cases include a recent Constitutional court decision ordering “rapacious” (as he describes him) business man Hassan Bassajabalaba to refund billions of Uganda Shillings in Tax payer’s money in respect of shady contracts over several city markets.
He has ever since criticised the Court decision despite being in his favour as a mere slap on the wrist of the business man and an indicator of the courts’ weakness in the face of corruption.
” We have abused the Legal profession and the Judicial vocation for far too long by paying lip service to the protection and promotion of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law” He says.
The COVID -19 Crisis has exposed the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS), according to the Lawyer for who they are – ” Leeches.”
JLOS is an umbrella body of 17 institutions charged with justice, law and order and includes the Judiciary, the Uganda Police, and the National Bar Association – Uganda Law Society(ULS).
” [They] never met to synchronise a COVID-19 response that is consistent with human rights obligations of the state in a public health or public safety emergency of this kind” He told the Legal Reports.
” The reason is simple. The donors that buy them the expensive lifestyles they enjoy at the Citizen’s cost did not ask for it
” So do not expect these human rights compradors to be innovative without the persuasion of a donor. These people do not work for the Ugandan” The Legal Brains Trust team leader explains.
The Judiciary itself, led by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe is complicit in this lacklustre way of handling issues of human rights and freedoms of Ugandans during the Coronavirus crisis due to what Isaac calls ‘establishment bias’
” Chief Justice Katureebe, a former Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs demonstrated the establishment bias by unilaterally shutting the Courts in ‘obedience to Presidential directives’ even before they had attained the status of law on 19th March, 2020″ The Maverick Lawyer argues.
” He did not consult anyone. Neither in the Judiciary nor the Bar. Or the JLOS.
” He copied the Kenyan version of Judiciary COVID-19 Regulations and deliberately left out prison decongestion and Police diversion initiatives which would have signalled institutional respect for human dignity for all” He added.
” And ofcourse the ULS and LASPNET never objected”
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The COVID-19 crisis, according to Ssemakadde, like Walk to Walk (in 2011), the 2001-2016 General elections, 2016 Social Media shutdowns and “many cycles of human rights suppression before” give time to the profession to ” think about who we are and what we do”
They Love It That Way
Asked about whether this state of affairs isn’t a result of Executive actions against the profession in order to curtail its provocative finger, Mr Ssemakadde who has been representing an Academic jailed for calling President Museveni a ‘pair of buttocks’ although was freed last month, says that:
” They are not emasculated. They love it that way. Privilege distorts honour. It distorts duty.”
Due to ‘elitist establishment bias,’ the Lawyer argues, ‘essential COVID-19 lawyering’ is considered a ‘taboo.’
” That is why you do not see them [lawyers] up in arms with the establishment over COVID-19 human rights violations.
” For them, it is business as usual”
In The Courts Too
This ‘elitist establishment’ bias extends beyond practicing lawyers into the Courts in which they appear and according to Ssemakadde the bias is already evident in the Court’s handling of Judicial business in the Coronavirus Crisis so far.
” Ever since the COVID-19 crisis emerged, the High Court Judges and Magistrates across the Country have avoided to cause list any COVID-19 related matters and when they did they acted like it was business as usual” He explains, drawing attention to three cases in the Courts;
- Lt. Gen Tumukunde’s Bail Application at the High Court
- City Pastor, Yiga’s case at Mwanga II Court
- The ” Chinese Dormitory Lodgers” who escaped mandatory quarantine
” What was the logic of delaying these hearings (Tumukunde’s) by granting long adjournments during a Public health emergency?” He wonders.
” What was the logic of remanding [Pastor Yiga] yet Court could have instantly released him on bail, with a mandatory stay-at-home order. After all that is the current situation of all ‘free persons’?” Further, he asks.
” Did the ” Chinese dormitory lodgers” have to be remanded at all or deported at Once?”
All these are important questions, according to Mr Ssemakadde that reflect “our individual and collective insensitivity to the COVID Crisis”
“Lie low, Let the Storm Pass and Return To The Merchant’s Errands We Call Lawyering Today“
In a crisis, such as COVID-19, he argues the Legal profession as is cannot work for the ordinary Ugandan except with ” Legal Rebels” like himself.
” The work of serving the last mile client in the Legal services sector, the Vulnerable and marginalised, the poor and unpopular has always rested on us; The Legal Rebels” He says.
” We will show up: COVID-19 or No Covid-19. Let the sausage eaters stay in self quarantine”
Mr Ssemakadde holds the belief that if the Uganda Law Society were to secure an essential services provider tag during the Coronavirus lockdown, most lawyers would still ‘ abuse it.’
” Even if the Law Society were to secure an essential worker exemption for all its members, the majority would abuse the exemption to engage in non essential errands for their clients. That’s the sad reality” He says.
” That’s why we are inspired by those who have courage and kindness to eschew the trappings of privilege to speak up, stand out and do something”
Conclusively, on the grant of special status to operate during the COVID-19 crisis, Mr Ssemakadde advises his colleagues in the profession to:
” Lie low, let the storm pass and return to the merchants’ errands we call lawyering today”
( Story Updated)
Benjamin is a Digital Legal News Journalist (trained by Reuters) and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.
Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine - both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.